I wish I would have watched this Brené Brown TED Talk much earlier in my life.
I’ve been working on my own health since I was 10 years old. I grew up as the “fat kid”. I was doing 1200 calorie diets when I was 11 or 12 years old to try to lose weight. Most of my life has been marked by what part of the diet roller coaster I was on at the time a picture was taken.
For the past 7-10 years (7 in an official capacity), I have been working with others on their health and weight loss and nutrition.
In some sense, I’ve always known that there was more to successful weight loss than motivational quotes, cheer leading, and “just do it”. This was obvious to me because those things didn’t always do it for me personally and they didn’t always seem to do it for people I worked with. There was something deeper at play. I had no words for it. I had no vocabulary or system to define it.
But, then I found Dr. Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability. My first introduction to her work was when my sister-in-law gave me her book Daring Greatly. I literally read the first chapter and put it back on the shelf. NOT INTERESTED! Shame and vulnerability? No thank you.
It wasn’t until 2017 that I finally connected with her work. It’s odd how it happened actually. I was at Barnes and Noble buying Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, the story of Pixar, because a friend recommended it to me. I browsed the audio section and saw an audio by Dr. Brown. I have no idea why I bought it, but I did. I put it on in the car on the way home and I was hooked.
As I listened to that audio, I began to see the connection between body image, dieting, weight loss, shame, and vulnerability. It was that “something deeper” that I talked about before. I couldn’t see it clearly but Dr. Brown’s words started to make it a bit clearer.
So, I dove in more and read more of her stuff (The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and now Braving the Wilderness). I could not believe how applicable her work is to what we do here at 90/10.
This Brené Brown TED Talk (video below) is one of the most watched TED talks of all time. While I would highly recommend all of Brené’s books to anyone, you can get the sense for how important this is with just this 20 minute Brené Brown TED Talk.
Brené Brown TED Talk
My Thoughts On This Brené Brown TED Talk
I want to just pull out a few things from this talk and apply them to health, nutrition, weight loss, and body image.
First, shame is simply the fear of disconnection. She says:
“Is there something about me, that if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection?”
If this doesn’t apply to health, I don’t know what does. Shame runs rampant in our world of health, weight loss, and nutrition. It’s often the driving force for someone starting a new diet even if they don’t know it. Shame over how you look, how others view you, how others think about you can control and destroy.
Viewing shame as the fear of disconnection, as Dr. Brown describes, can be extremely helpful. How?
The default reaction to shame is to hide or push down that emotion and that turns out to be the opposite of what’s needed to release ourselves from it. She says that the less you talk about it, the more you have it. When you understand this and can recognize it in yourself, you are one step closer to being able to overcome its crippling effects.
I also think it is extremely helpful to understand the difference between shame and guilt.
GUILT: I am a good person with good intentions, but I messed this particular thing up and need to do better.
SHAME: I am a failure as a person and messing this thing up is a symbol of my lack of worth.
Guilt can be a useful tool for shaping/changing behavior. Shame is not.
Although the default reaction to shame is to hide and shield the parts of us that we don’t want others to see (in fear of disconnection), the opposite is often what needs to happen for connection!
“In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen.”
This is counter to everything you were probably taught and everything you probably tend to do related to food, body image, weight loss, and health. At least I know it is for me. I want to hide the parts of me that I feel shame around.
Connection and Belonging
In studying people who handle shame well and have a sense of connection, love and belonging, Dr. Brown discovered some simple things they all had in common:
- People who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy of love and belonging
- They have the courage to be imperfect
- They have the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others
- They experience connection as a result of authenticity (not hiding or pretending)
- They have fully embraced vulnerability (being seen)
They realize that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful! They don’t hide their true selves. They are kind to themselves when they don’t get it right and they aren’t afraid to be imperfect, even in front of others.
This is colossal news! You mean shame (that horrible emotion you feel that makes you want to hide from people) is destroyed and defeated by being imperfect and being ok with that? It’s NOT defeated by trying to be perfect and hiding the parts where we fail at being perfect? This is freeing but at the same time a little scary. Vulnerability is scary.
How We Fight Vulnerability
Vulnerability isn’t the default reaction. Hiding and shields are the default reactions. So, it is helpful to understand some of the ways we hide or shield rather than lean in.
- NUMBING: Yea, this one is front and center in our world and it creates a perpetual motion machine of shame. We feel shame over our body and want to lose weight, we try a diet and fall off the wagon after a week, that brings more shame, we numb the shame with…you guessed it, FOOD. She says that the main issue with this is that we can’t selectively just numb the shame we feel for falling off the wagon. We numb all the emotions. Joy included.
- CERTAINTY. We try to make everything that we feel uncertain about more certain. In our world that might be going on a diet that is MORE strict than the last one to try to eliminate the variables. To make sure we can’t fail. We say we can’t rely on willpower because it’s too uncertain so we’ll just make sure we can’t fail.
- PERFECTIONISM. When we fail at being perfect and feel shame for it, we beat ourselves up about and then resolve to be more perfect. Works every time, right? Nope.
- PRETEND. We just pretend we are perfect. Put on the face of success and hide the imperfect parts.
In order to defeat this shame that drives so many of our actions. We need to embrace what she calls “Wholehearted Living”. Here are the main tenets:
- Let ourselves be seen (don’t run from vulnerability)
- Love with our whole hearts
- Practice gratitude and joy
- Start with “I am enough”
That last one. Wow. Start with “I am enough”. This is a crazy concept. What if you started with “I am enough NOW” instead of “when I lose 50lbs, I will be enough”? Would that really make a difference? The research says YES.